Five Performances I Saw In New York

 Mary Poppins – musical, Broadway

This was Genevieve’s idea and I did not desperately want to go. I love the songs from this musical, but not the movie itself so much: while the songs range from the irrepressibly, genuinely cheerful (Mrs Suffragette, Chim-Chiminee) to the manic (Supacallifragilistic) to the soporific (Go to Sleep) to the heart breaking (Feed the Birds), the movie manages to be pretty well candy-sweet and synthetic throughout, with none of the emotional range of its own music or the dark, daring nastiness of the books. I expected the musical to be pretty much a stage version of the movie. I was wrong.

I won’t say the musical was perfect. And it wasn’t a star vehicle – it showcased the songs and set (an Edwardian dolls house) rather than the individual actors (actually, I prefer this in a musical). But it wasn’t the Disney movie, either. The plot was changed (no more Mrs Suffragette, now Mrs Banks is herself from the stage and struggling with middle class society) and there are new situations with old songs in unfamiliar places (Spoonful of Sugar is now the aftermath to a kitchen disaster) and new words to old songs (Supacallifragilistic is no longer the story of Bert’s childhood), and new characters (the Statues!) and scenes (the conversation shop) and stunts (Bert tapdancing on the ceiling).

It also captured just a little more of the acerbic, uncomfortable genre from which it sprung. Not so much PL Travers as E Nesbit, but that’s halfway there. The living statuary in the park reminded me very much of The Enchanted Castle. Mary isn’t as alarming as she was in the books, but she is sharper and more obnoxiously self-satisfied (“practically perfect”).

And best of best of all, there were the gingerbread stars, which I had forgotten.

Perfect Crime – play, off-Broadway

Long-running, much lauded and I don’t see what all the fuss was about. Justly compared to Agatha Christie, just Agatha Christie tarted up and with the sense taken out of it. Confusing (as such mysteries should be) but untidy (which they should not be), with loose ends that appear to be disregarded rather than deliberately left open. Some great rants, though. I am a fan of witty, rapid-fire, top-of-the-lungs monologues (Vimes nearly got a standing ovation in Night Watch, last year, after delivering the Watchman’s Oath).

Hairspray – musical, Broadway

Full disclosure: I loved the new movie and haven’t seen the old one. I am not sure the new movie will wear well on me, but it was definitely the most fun I’ve had in a cinema this year, and might have spoiled the stage production for me. The set was stylised, which is fine, but the pastels made everything seem rather washed out and unexciting, and Tracy’s mother was uncertain of his lines (although “America, I made this myself!” was well-delivered), and Motormouth Mabel lacked the fire of Queen Latifah’s screen portrayal. Seaweed’s sister didn’t get the happy ending she did in the movie, but we saw more of her and she had spark as well, so that was good. But the whole thing was faded and cheapened for me by the over-the-top and unnecessary lewdness of the gestures and entendres, which took away the bittersweetness and fun and power of the musical.

Wicked – musical, Broadway

This manages to be both very and totally unlike the book (which I was a third of the way through), and to neaten and close the books storylines in a way the author didn’t (deliberately as opposed to inadvertently). So I enjoyed it in a different way. Interestingly, the Witch is actually more wicked at the end of the musical and gets a happier ending. The set and costumes were gorgeous. Elphaba and Galinda (“with a ‘ga’”) were both understudies that day and both fabulous. The flying monkeys were a highlight. I almost cried at Fiyero’s fate. It is also a more cerebral musical than the others. I’d like to see it again, some time, and work out if I like the music. I did come away humming, “They called me wonderful so I am wonderful”.

Pygmalion – play, Broadway

My mother and I arrived at this in style, windswept and rather shaken from our bicycle cab ride through the streets of New York. I loved it, simply and unashamedly. I’d been read (and read) the play, but never seen it performed. Especially with actual cockney accents, which my mother could never manage (she’d do deep southern US instead). It’s a brilliant play, with wonderful dialogue and monologues, humour, callousness, ideas. Also, it’s about linguistics, so all things for the good, hey?

My mother like Alfred Doolittle best. I thought the Higgins were divine – dignified Mrs Higgins and spoiled, arrogant, petulant, pig-headed Henry, sulking and scowling and being delightfully rude to everybody.

And Claire Danes played Eliza.

Claire was… like everything else in New York. Exactly as she looks in the movies and surprising for that. She made a wonderful Eliza, with an unrestrained passion that was much more endearing than Audrey Hepburn’s version. But as Miss Doolittle she was slightly wooden, or mannered. And I can’t quite say this is a criticism of Claire because when she was simply Eliza she was wonderful, and I know she can act. She’s one of my favourite actresses (the dormouse scenes in Stardust!), though that is based on personality as well as acting ability.

The difficulty with the role of Eliza Doolittle is that she does in fact become wooden and mannered and self-conscious, until the very end (and we saw this in her acting of the Ephiphany in Mrs Higgin’s house) and while in the musical she is the main character, in the play she is really rather secondary to Henry.

But, as I said, I loved the play, and because the cast of all Broadway productions were collecting for charity that month, she was at the stage door holding a bucket afterwards and I said, very quickly, that I had enjoyed the play and Stardust.

4 thoughts on “Five Performances I Saw In New York

  1. Oh, *squeal*!

    You spoke to her? You never said! Eee!
    I always embarrass myself around famous people by either not knowing who they are or having a brain freeze then blushing and saying something inane in a breathless rush like a raving fanatic. I *know* they’re real people, but it’s an uncontrollable reaction and I can’t help it. I guess the way to handle it is like you did.

    Of all of them, Pygmalion is the one I would have most looked forward to. I studied it in Yr11 and loved how witty it was and how language-conscious.

    And yes, Claire was wonderful in Stardust!

  2. I went and saw Wicked last year, after spending the prior year listening to and falling in love with the songs. I can’t remember if I read the book before or after though.

    I did love it, and hearing the songs in context made them mean so much more to me than they already did.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s